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"Have no fear!" the Sheikh said, reassuringly.
Instantly I realized that this experience was a test. The wheels of tny brain revolved at express speed. Again I hesitated—and who would not hesitate before grasping a deadly, newly-caught cobra, which can bestow death with most horrible agonies. And then I felt, as by some telepathic interplay of thought between myself and my teacher, that to accept fear of the snake at this crucial moment might mean failure to pass the test and, perhaps, the dismissal of my dream of becoming a snake-charmer. I knew that the situation called for an instant decision, whether of acceptance or refusal; obviously the former if I wished to continue this mysterious traffic with the serpent tribe.
"All right I" I said mentally. "Death now or later— maleeshl (never mindl") I put out my hand and grasped the round ringed body of the cobra. Instead of experiencing a cold clammy touch, I was surprised to discover that the contact yielded a not unpleasant sensation.
The serpent jerked its head up to look at its new cantor. Our eyes met. It stopped its movement and remained in a fixed attitude of watchfulness, as still as a fixed rod.
Again that natural and inevitable feeling of fear passed through me, but it endured no longer than a flash of lightning; I returned instantly to my resolution to go through with the whole thing until the finish, cost what it might, a resolution to which I dung thenceforth with implacable determination.
Moussa looked at me and smiled enthusiastically.
"You see, now you have become its master," he announced proudly.
Whether the snake fully accepted the situation it was too early for me to determine. The serpent species has not earned a reputation for treachery and cunning for nothing; I did not assume that a first victory meant the winning of a war. A novice at the game, I lacked the complete inner certitude so much to be admired in the character of a man like my master.
The cobra began to sway flexibly in my grasp. It twisted to and fro, still keeping its wicked-looking head and baleful eyes turned upon me, and its tiny forked tongue pointed at me. The hiss it let out sounded occasionally like heavy human breathing.
Here was an outlawed creature which did not know, could not be expected to know, the meaning of mercy; which was